Governor Terry Branstad said Monday that a controversy over requiring non-toxic shot for hunting mourning doves in Iowa "should have been handled better" by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources' Natural Resource Commission. He also denied that he had expressed support for a lead shot ban in a telephone conversation with one of the commissioners.
The DNR's Natural Resource Commission unanimously voted to ban lead ammunition for dove hunters in July, but last week the Iowa legislature's Administrative Rules Review Committee delayed that rule until after the 2012 legislative session.
Reporters asked Branstad about the dove hunting issue yesterday because the Administrative Rules Review Committee heard conflicting stories about the governor's stand on banning lead shot. The chairman of the Natural Resource Commission said Branstad had told one of the commissioners he would back a ban on toxic ammunition if there was consensus supporting the rule. However, Branstad's legal counsel Brenna Findley said last week that the governor's position "is and always has been that the decision belongs to the legislature."
During his weekly press conference on August 22, Branstad told reporters that he "wasn't given all the facts" when a Natural Resource Commission member called him about the lead shot ban. In particular, he wasn't aware that the Iowa House had voted down an amendment banning lead shot for dove hunting in March. Branstad argued that "we need to respect the intent of the Legislature and an issue of this magnitude of public policy should be decided by the Legislature not by an unelected commission that was appointed."
Radio Iowa posted more quotes from Branstad's press conference here. The governor's son Marcus was among the hunters who testified against the lead shot ban at last week's Administrative Rules Review Committee meeting. The governor said that his son "felt it was inappropriate for the DNR commission to go against the wishes of the legislature."
Well then, Branstad should tell his appointee Rod Roberts to have the Department of Inspections and Appeals hire 10 additional nursing home inspectors, as state legislators intended when they allocated $650,000 for that purpose. But I suppose that's the wrong kind of legislative intent for this governor.
Back to the dove-hunting controversy: where one person sees unelected commissioners trampling legislative intent, others see legislators trying to micromanage the rule-making process. State boards and commissions routinely approve rules for implementing new laws. In fact, when the Iowa House rushed the dove-hunting bill through in March, the bill's floor manager Rich Arnold suggested that banning lead shot was within the Natural Resource Commission's scope of authority:
On the way to approving the bill, representatives offered amendments to prohibit using lead shot, require dove hunters to buy migratory fowl stamps and prohibit dove hunting within a mile of a residence. All were rejected. Arnold said the Natural Resources Commission could establish those rules.
My hunch is that when Branstad expressed his tentative support for the lead shot ban to a DNR commissioner, he didn't realize that the National Rifle Association would make a big deal about this this so-called "anti-hunting" rule. In reality, hunters are on both sides of this issue, because many recognize the threat lead poses to eagles and other birds. Some of the opposition to non-toxic ammunition is based on misconceptions about non-toxic shot.
Alternative shot is on average more expensive than lead shot. In countries that have already made the full switch, however, prices have shown to drop to comparable levels. Legislation influences the demand, and with increasing demand prices will drop.
No matter, Branstad made his point yesterday. He's "heard consistent complaints" from sportsmen, and he wants "to restore the respect and credibility for the departments and agencies of state government." Translation: don't approve any rules that conservative interest groups oppose.
UPDATE: From an August 22 statement by Danny Homan, the president of AFSCME Iowa Council 61:
In Governor Branstad's weekly news conference the Governor stated, "We need to respect the intent of the legislature and an issue of this magnitude should be decided by the legislature, not an unelected commission."
That is exactly what Governor Branstad has done this summer, by making the decision to ignore the will of both chambers and both parties of the Iowa Legislature and close down around two-thirds of Iowa Workforce Development worksites. To call dove hunting an issue of magnitude that only the legislature can deal with while at the same time ignoring the legislature's bi-partisan intent to keep 35 Iowa Workforce Development sites open during a recession is an incredible statement.
Click here for more on Branstad's line-item veto of language that would have kept all the Iowa Workforce Development offices open.